Marianne Lile is a Madrona resident and the author of “Stepmother,” a memoir released Sept. 27.
I have always hated name tags. The sticky white ones are especially bothersome, as they either end up curling over at the edges, leaving you constantly rubbing your hand on your chest to make it flat, or, even more disconcerting, the tag starts slipping down, finally settling on some inappropriate spot on your blouse where all eyes gather.
But the day I received my step mom label was one of my happiest. I had married this great guy who loved me like no one else and the icing on this wedding cake included his two really nice and amazing kids. I lifted that name tag high and slapped it on as if I had won an award.
I was so overwhelmed with joy, I became the female version of Tom in the movie “500 Days of Summer,” recreating the scene when he walks out of the apartment singing with all who join him as he walks to work.
“Look at me!” I shouted with glee as I strode out the front door of my new home in my step kid’s old neighborhood. I hit the streets with a wide smile, a spring in my step, and a song in my heart.
I had won myself over as the new step mom in town. The neighbors? Not so much.
A step mom’s arrival in town, especially a town where the kids have always lived, can literally disrupt the landscape. You roll in like an unwanted boulder and stand out in the middle of the crowd. The placement of familiar land marks has been changed with your arrival. So despite your big smile and enthusiasm for your new tag — and maybe because of it — there can be a neon “steer clear” sign shining brightly above your head.
Curiously, one of the best descriptions of this phenomenon I ever encountered came from a recipe for yogurt pancakes. Whisk the wet ingredients. Stir the dry. Then (wait for it...) — blend but don’t over mix or it will be tough.
This was a geographical epiphany. This was the unstated direction that most of the people I encountered, and even at times my own step kids, wanted me to follow. You’re here. That fact is probably not going to change. Just don’t overdo it or it will be tough.
So as a new step mom in town, what steps can you take to win over the folks up and down the street?
The most common advice I received was usually about time.
“Just wait it out.”
“Let a little time go by.”
“It will get better in time.”
I appreciated these sentiments for the hope and comfort that they were meant to give, but in my experience time is not always your friend.
So while that time is ticking away, here are some additional thoughts to mull in your own efforts to forge a seat at the table in your town.
Pick a good theme song. I realize this sounds a little flippant but I am quite serious. You need your own private anthem. Inspiring and up-lifting like the themes from “Rocky” or “Chariots of Fire.” Righteous musical notes that start out slow but build with grace and enthusiasm (and sometimes a horn section) and end with a flourish allowing you to throw your two arms in the air with enthusiastic gusto and a well-deserved pat on the back for whatever efforts you did that day to crack open the doors from the home town crowd. Play this song before heading out and walk to its rhythm through the course of the day. It does not have to be the same song every day. I will humbly admit there were days that I picked Elton John’s song “The Bitch is Back” if the mood of the day was especially dire. But play it loud. And play it proud. Your step mom theme will instill the belief in yourself that you did your best, even if you tripped up or failed. You tried. You showed up.
Secondly, do not discount the power of a good basket of baked goods. Or a tasty pasta dish. Then forget the adults and invite your step kids to have their friends over for a meal and a movie. Take a moment to understand their taste buds and adjust the seasonings as needed next time they come over. If cooking is not in your wheel house, find the best bakery in town and invest in their best snack or dessert. Keep it a secret. But have it at your house as your familiar land mark each time they come to visit. My Granny used to have a package of striped chocolate shortbread cookies in her freezer every single time we visited her home. That freezer door was opened by everyone, often before the hellos were shouted out. It was comforting and familiar.
Inevitably time will go by, and at the end of the day, being embraced by the neighbors may cease to matter as much. But I wish you success, because it sure makes eating those baked goods and singing that anthem a lot more fun.